Measuring and communicating the value of training has long been one of the most important challenges of a training professional. I often think of it as the holy grail of the profession. It’s a topic that many analysts and consultants speak to often. But with all the rhetoric and attention given to the subject, the problem still seems as big as ever. Is our organization creating value for the business? How do we measure the ROI of training? Is the training creating behavior change?

Why does the problem persist? I believe the problem is two-fold: We struggle with understanding what we need to measure and why we need to measure it. Training analytics often focus more on understanding whether the student learned what we wanted them to learn. While this is important, we often lose focus on measuring whether the learner’s behavior changed post-training, and how the learner’s behavior impacted the business.

When Dr. Kirkpatrick introduced the four levels of evaluation, he helped us better understand this and the relationship between measuring the learner’s satisfaction (Level 1) with training to whether the training positively impacted the business (Level 4).

Measuring the impact of training has often been thought of in terms of ROI. Unfortunately, training professionals have struggled to understand the financial value gained from the training. We may know how much the training cost to develop but being able to measure value based on financial impact is an extremely difficult question to answer – especially if that training is not aligned to a specific need of the business.

If we really want to measure the impact of training, we need to think of analytics from the perspective of the business. Understanding the learner’s behavior and how that behavior impacts the business is much more important in determining the future needs of training. And I believe this is at the root of understanding how to provide value. As training professionals, we must work with the business leadership to understand what is happening in their organization, such as quality issues, communication problems or delays in deliverables. This data is the source of where training can have the greatest impact to the business.

Strategically aligning training to these kinds of problems can provide L&D with a direct line to how we create value and how we communicate our value based on improvements to the business after the training is completed. If you can say that training is offered specifically to solve a problem, then your ability to measure the value of training becomes much clearer. It allows you to assign a financial value because you can better measure the cost of the problem to the business prior to the training. You can then measure the cost of improvement to the business after the training, measure the change and compare it to the cost of the training, ultimately providing you a return on investment.

The biggest hinderance to measuring value comes from the idea that we offer training that has no direct link to a business problem, initiative or issue, and we try to communicate the value of something that unfortunately has little to no value.

From where I sit, an increased focus on data analytics is what will help training professionals more than anything else going forward. Data is widely available today, but we need to make sure we’re measuring the right things. Let’s change the paradigm of thinking about learning analytics from a learner’s perspective and focus on understanding how we can better use business data to drive our training objectives.